The latest climate ‘conspiracy theory’

by Judith Curry

Guess who the new climate ‘conspiracy theorists’ are?

When I first saw this published in the WaPo, I thought it was a joke: Why I’m trying to preserve federal climate data before Trump takes office.  Excerpts:

Trump is serious about overtly declaring war on science. This isn’t a presidential transition. It’s an Inquisition. It’s a 21st-century book burning. The incoming administration is likely to be willfully hostile toward the scientific process, with far-reaching implications.

One of the most tangible consequences of sharp cutbacks in federal funding for climate science is the potential loss of critical data — whether by neglect or malice — that underlie global efforts to understand our climate system. By all accounts, that’s exactly what Trump and his team want: Ignorance of how human actions are affecting our planet makes it easier to maintain the status quo.

‘Saving’ climate data

WaPo has another article on the topic: Scientists are frantically copying U.S. climate data, fearing it might vanish under Trump. Excerpts:

Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.

In recent weeks, President-elect Donald Trump has nominated a growing list of Cabinet members who have questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus around global warming. His transition team at the Department of Energy has asked agency officials for names of employees and contractors who have participated in international climate talks and worked on the scientific basis for Obama administration-era regulations of carbon emissions. One Trump adviser suggested that NASA no longer should conduct climate research and instead should focus on space exploration.

Those moves have stoked fears among the scientific community that Trump could try to alter or dismantle parts of the federal government’s repository of data on everything from rising sea levels to the number of wildfires in the country.

Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that Trump has appointed a “band of climate conspiracy theorists” to run transition efforts at various agencies, along with nominees to lead them who share similar views.

“They have been salivating at the possibility of dismantling federal climate research programs for years. It’s not unreasonable to think they would want to take down the very data that they dispute,” Halpern said in an email. “There is a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared, and scientists are doing their best to be prepared. . . . Scientists are right to preserve data and archive websites before those who want to dismantle federal climate change research programs storm the castle.”

To be clear, neither Trump nor his transition team have said the new administration plans to manipulate or curtail publicly available data. But some scientists aren’t taking any chances.

Breitbart counters with this article: Fake News – Climate Scientists ‘Save’ Data from Donald Trump. Excerpts:

No one has done more damage to “climate data” in the past three decades than the corrupt, politicized activist scientists who are now afraid that they may be neutered or booted out of office by the incoming administration.

One of the many shocking revelations of the 2009 Climategate emails was that in some cases the raw temperature data had been destroyed or lost by the scientists whose job it was to maintain it. Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia admitted that they had not kept “the original raw data” for reasons of “data storage availability”.

That, in turn, prompted a lawsuit by the Competitive Enterprise Institute:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market advocacy group, is arguing that U.S. EPA’s climate policies rely on raw data that have been destroyed and are therefore unreliable. The nonprofit group — a staunch critic of U.S. EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases — petitioned (pdf) the agency last week to reopen the public comment period on its proposed “endangerment finding” because the data set had been lost (E&ENews PM, Oct. 9).

But climate scientists familiar with the data insist that the reports are based on sound science and that the data in question was altered as part of standard operating procedure to ensure consistency across reporting stations.

For the alarmists now to turn around and claim that the Trump administration is unfit to look after data that they’ve already lost and destroyed is, as Tony Heller puts it, an “Orwellian Climate Moment“.

NOAA overwrites their monthly temperature data, and wanted $260,000 to recover data which should have been downloadable online in a matter of seconds.  Fee Notification Letter – 2014-001602


Well, the conspiracy theory about climate data and climate science seems to be growing.  At the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, there was a #standupforscience rally.  Images and videos are provided by a post at WUWT.

Scott Waldman of ClimateWire has a good overview: Scientists prepare for ‘nightmare scenario’ under Trump (unfortunately behind paywall).  Excerpts:

SAN FRANCISCO — Climate scientists are ready for battle.

With President-elect Donald Trump naming skeptics to Cabinet positions and sending mixed messages about his own view of established climate science, the world’s researchers say they fear and dread the next four to eight years. As more than 20,000 earth and climate scientists gathered here for the American Geophysical Union’s first major meeting since the election, they vowed to combat any federal effort to stifle their work.

For a short time Tuesday, dry presentations of research papers were replaced with protests. Scientists, some donning white lab coats, chanted “Out of the lab, into the streets!” and “Resistance, resistance, resistance” in defense of their work.

The pushback from scientists comes amid mixed messages from the incoming Trump administration about climate change.

State and federal officials from the Obama administration buoyed the crowd of anxious researchers by telling them they were not alone.

Of particular concern is one of the weapons that the Trump administration could deploy against them. David Schnare, general counsel of the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, who has represented groups that have sued for access to climate scientists’ unpublished emails and research, is now part of the transition team.

Lawyer Peter Fontaine fought Schnare’s attempts to get Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann’s emails for years through a series of court battles. 

Yawn.  Michael Mann again.  See Steyn versus Mann: norms of behavior.  Standing up for integrity in climate research does not require that you stand up for Michael Mann’s egregious behavior.  So . . . losing data — sort of like what happened to the hockey stick data and meta data?

Buzzfeed has a more balanced article: Climate Scientists Split Over How to Survive Trump.  Excerpts:

Just a couple of hours earlier, BuzzFeed News had sat down with Margaret Leinen, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and current president of the AGU. She acknowledged the concerns, but urged calm until it’s clear what the Trump administration is going to do. “A lot of people like me have seen transitions before,” she said.

“I think that immediately anticipating that the federal government will start destroying datasets is an overreaction,” Leinen said. “Remember also that Congress has a lot to say about this.”

Somewhere in the middle, judging from the AGU meeting, are the vast majority of researchers who want to steer clear of politics and simply get on with their work. They went about their business as usual, checking their emails and scurrying from talk to talk — many of the younger scientists carrying cardboard tubes containing posters describing their research.

Later that evening, the top brass of NASA’s Earth sciences division held a packed town hall meeting, delivering a pep talk with the message: “Keep calm, and carry on”…for now, at least. Thomas Zurbuchen, a Swiss-born space scientist who is the space agency’s most senior science official, warned against “amplifying noise,” and urged everyone to “behave like scientists,” and wait for evidence of what the new administration wants to do.

“When the data come, when we have the evidence, when there is a line at which decisions have to be made, there may be fights that have to happen,” he said. And if that time comes, Zurbuchen also warned against infighting between space scientists and Earth scientists over NASA research dollars. “United communities are a lot harder to beat than divided communities,” he said. “Let’s stick together, and stick up for each other.”

An epidemic of activism

Nature has a provocative article:  Is Donald Trump pushing more scientists towards political activism?  It seems that the answer is ‘yes’.

From a column in Nature from a few months ago: The elephant in the room that we can’t ignore.  Excerpts:

The playwright Bertolt Brecht had a good line on expertise. In his plays, doctors, lawyers and other ‘experts’ are generally portrayed in threes. They squabble haplessly among themselves, each manoeuvring into the position that most elevates themselves in the eyes of their aristocratic paymaster.

And that, sadly, is the role to which senior scientific leaders have sometimes reduced themselves. In the main, they have been happy to accept the autocracy of politics and finance, even, like the president of the European Research Council, hanging around at the annual meeting of business leaders at Davos in Switzerland, hoping to pick up crumbs from the rich man’s table.

The problem extends down into the community itself. We like to talk about ‘engaging the public’, but many scientists really just want to talk at them. 

And those senior scientists who do engage with the government or public — as scientific advisers, for example — often take up highly political positions without acknowledging that they are doing so. For example, they support free-trade agreements that cede the right of democratic governments to control things such as cigarette advertising or pesticide use without hard, scientific evidence. This is a political position that is pursued with great dedication by global corporations — and that is haplessly bought into by many scientists without a thought for its consequences.

But at the top, there is paralysis: leading scientific organizations do little except chase money and reinforce the ruling nexus of politics and finance .

So, what are the ‘alarmists’ afraid of?  This article from the Manhattan Contrarian nails it:  The Impending Collapse of the Global Warming Scare.

JC reflections

The definition of ‘conspiracy theory’:

A conspiracy theory is an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy without warrant, generally one involving an illegal or harmful act carried out by government or other powerful actors.

‘Without warrant’ is key here; there is simply no evidence to support the crazy ideas and fears about the Trump administration’s policy about climate science — simply, because he apparently hasn’t even started thinking about it yet, including appointments for the Undersecretary of NOAA, the Administrator of NASA, etc. Zurbechan’s statement is exactly correct:  “behave like scientists,” and wait for evidence of what the new administration wants to do.

JC message to the alarmed scientist/advocates:

Get over it, your side lost.  Changes of Presidential administrations occur every 4 or 8 years, often with changes in political parties.

Get busy and shore up your scientific arguments; I suspect that argument from consensus won’t sway many minds in the Trump administration.

Overt activism and climate policy advocacy by climate scientists will not help your ’cause’; leave such advocacy to the environmental groups.

Behave like a scientist, and don’t build elaborate conspiracy theories based on vague conflicting signals from the Trump administration.  Stop embarrassing yourselves; wait for the evidence.

Be flexible; if funding priorities change, and you desire federal research funding, work on different problems.  The days of needing to sell all research in terms of AGW are arguably over.

Open your minds to different perspectives and interpretations of scientific evidence.

If you are advocating for policies, do some serious homework about the policy process, economics, and unintended consequences of technologies and policies.

Understand that climate policies are not the only, or even primary, driver for energy policy.


Filed under: Sociology of science

Judith Curry

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